Some more D&D4th Character Sheet

My scheme for running a card-based D&D4 dungeon crawl board game has moved on apace. I’ve now updated my “simple” Character Sheet into a character generator for my funky re-tooling of the game.

Every character has two classes, each class being in fact a specialist sub-class of a number of the core D&D4e classes (based entirely on what Power Cards I could get my hands on at a sensible price!)

The sheet automatically allocates Attributes, Skills and Class powers based on the selected roles. I’ve stripped out many, many Feats, leaving only the very simplest and least mechanically intrusive. Characters will only get Feats at character creation.

The second page will be printed as the back of the character sheet. It’s currently all formatted to A4, but I’ll probably go for half that size for a nice compact character record sheet that maximises available table space for card play.

It’s a bit messy underneath, my priority here was speed rather than elegance!

Updated version here

Simple D&D 4th edition character sheet

I’ve been thinking more and more about running with my slightly silly idea for a D&D4th edition card-based dungeon crawl game. It would certainly have some challenges – managing the number of Encounter powers, for example, and how to balance simplicity with the exception-based rules of Feats – but I’ve decided to go for it.

With this in mind, I’ve created a simple Excel version of a D&D4 character sheet. It is designed to show little-to-no workings, just highlighting the important numbers that inform game play.

You can find it here: <link to character sheet>

What to do about Dragons…. Part 6: Bloody Red Rage

Last in a wonderful sequence of articles adding more nuance to the personalities and habits of the classic D&D dragons. Read ’em all, Follow and Like – this is great stuff.

dmleviathan

red dragons

Okay, let me ask you a question. You’re sitting in your living room, talking to a friend, and one of you mentions dragons. Now you may be talking about movies. video games, literature, comic books, RPGs, or any number of things. The source of the image doesn’t matter at this moment.

The part that does matter is the image that pops into your head when the word “dragon” is spoken. If you’re like most of us, its the mighty and majestic, fire breathing, Red Dragon. And who could blame you? These are the original beasts of legend that most of us were brought up knowing and being inspired by, to dream great and wonderful dreams.

First you need to understand. There are Chromatic Dragons. Then there are Dragon like GODS that walk among us. The Red would fall into the latter category . They are immense, both in the scale of their…

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D&D5 – Mucking about with Proficiency

One of the simplifications that lies at the heart of D&D5 is the Proficiency mechanic: one central value, derived from Character Level, added to your die roll. Whether you’re hitting stuff with a pointy stick or trying to remember the name of that ancient carbunculous statue: roll 1d20 and add Proficiency.

So obviously, that’s RIPE for complication!

So here’s a few proposals on how you can muck about with Proficiency, adding complexity and individuality without breaking the game (too badly!)

 

Proficiency: the five core functions

To begin with, let’s split Proficiency into its main functions:

  • Skill rolls
  • Saving throws
  • Spell-casting rolls
  • Combat (and here I’d suggest further diversifying into Melee Combat and Ranged Combat)

Every character will now have five separate values to represent their relative skill in different areas. So, as a Barbarian you may favour Melee Combat, Saves and Skills; as a Wizard you’ll want to focus as much on Spell-casting; a Bard may go with a more even spread.

Now for deriving and increasing these values. Here’s a few ideas:

Method 1: Simple Level Proficiency

All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. You can’t add more than Level / 3 to any one value (rounded up to 1 for L2, with an absolute maximum of +8).

This allows a generalist character to have +6 in all five areas by L20, or a specialist to have a spread of +8/+8/+8/+3/+3.

A simple progression and easy to manage, but leads to over-powered specialists.

Method 1A: Capped Maximum

All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. The highest value must be within 2 points of the lowest value.

This reduces the ability of a Specialist to run ahead, with a maximum spread of +7/+7/+7/+5/+5 at L20.  However, it does allow someone to have +4 to one ability at 2nd level. Almost certainly not game breaking, but does stretch the underlying assumptions of the mechanics a little.

Method 2: Points-buy

Each level you get a number of Proficiency Points equal to the new Level (i.e. at 3rd level, you get 3 points). Increasing Proficiency values costs as follows:

Value +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8
Cost 2 8 15 25 50 100

You can only increase 1 value per level. This allows for the following progressions:

  • Generalist:  focusing equally on all Proficiency values, you get +1 to one Proficiency value every level (except 18th). At 10th level you have +4/+4/+4/+4/+3 and end up with +6/+6/+6/+5/+5 at 20th level.
  • Ultra-specialist: focus on a single Proficiency, you hit +6/+2/+2/+2/+2 at 10th level and +8/+2 etc. at 20th level. Good luck with those Saving Throws…
  • Dual specialist: 10th level is +5/+5/+2 and 20th level is +7/+7/+2.
  • Priority 3: +5/+4/+4/+3/+2 at 10th, +7/+6/+6/+4/+2 at 20th
  • Focus 4: +4/+4/+4/+4/+2 at 10th, +6/+6/+6/+6/+4 at 20th

More granular, more choice, but complex book-keeping. And in reality, would anyone not go for something akin to Priority 3 or Focus 4? Might be better just defining some possible progressions at Level 1 and having players pick them.

Method 3: Class-based Proficiency

If you’re going to define Proficiency up front, why not just set it by class a la D&D3.x?

Firstly, change the default assumption back to 4 Proficiency types, dropping the split between Melee and Ranged combat. Set four core progressions:

  • Strong: +3 at 4th level and further +1 every 4 levels, until +7 at 20th
  • Standard: as per usual
  • Moderate: +1 at 1st level, +2 at 2nd level and +1 every 4 levels until +6 at 17th
  • Weak: +0 at 1st level, +1 at 2nd level and +1 every 5 levels until +4 at 17th

Then allocate classes one of two possible arrays:

  • Specialist class: Strong, Standard, Moderate, Weak
  • Generalist class: Standard, Standard, Moderate, Moderate

E.g. A Fighter would be Strong Attack, Standard Save, Moderate Skill, Weak Magic. A Bard could be Standard Magic, Standard Skill, Moderate Attack, Moderate Save.

Method 4: Simple Proficiency, revisited

Start with spread of +2/+2/+1/+1/+1. Maximum value of any Proficiency is 3 + Level /5 (rounded-down). Add one point to one Proficiency value as Method 1. At 5th level, a specialist could be +4/+3/+2/+1/+1. But by 20th level it’s evened out at +7/+6/+6/+6/+1.

Why put this last, rather than as Method 1B? Well, because if I were to implement one of these ideas, this is the one I’d go with. Balances customisability with simplicity. What’s not to like?!

TRAVELLER and “Hard Science Fiction” — I don’t think so…

Great blog post on why Traveller isn’t hard sci-fi – and was never meant to be.

Tales to Astound!

jack-vance-star-king-daw

In an interview from 1981, Marc Miller suggests that the biggest influences for Traveller were numerous. Of note were SF series by Jack Vance, E.C. Tubes, and Poul Anderson.

Now, here’s a thing:

There’s no “right” way to play Traveller, nor is there any “correct” setting for Traveller. The short stories and novels Miller references would never make a coherent whole. Like Gygax referencing several dozen fantasy authors, there is no single coherent world to be built out of these tales. They are there for inspiration for the Referee to build his or her own setting for play.

Keep in mind that this series of posts is about the 1977 & 1981 editions of Traveller Books 1-3. There is no mention of any specific setting in these book, and Miller in several interviews over the years makes it clear there that in 1977 when the game was released…

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Power Ranks – combining absolute and variable resolution mechanics

Time to throw a log of contemplation into the cold dead ashes of this blog burner.

Earlier this week, I read another excellent blog entry by always thought-provoking Rob Donoghue, one of the creators of Fate, around resolution mechanic based on TV tropes. Read it here:

http://walkingmind.evilhat.com/2015/11/02/the-tvgame/

The idea of rigid tiers of ability is something I’ve considered myself on many occasions, and it is one that pops up from time to time in RPGs. For example, Jonathan Tweet’s Everway. The actual model described by Rob, with near-automatic success over lower ranks, a small chance of beating a higher rank, and more nuanced conflict resolution within ranks pretty much describes Robin D. Laws HeroQuest / Hero Wars system to a tee.

This got me thinking a little about Superhero games. Building mechanics that allow you to reflect Awesome Man’s planet-moving abilities alongside Sneaky Man’s street-level gumption and then bring them together in satisfying game play is notoriously difficult. However, it strikes me that retrofitting a rank-based model into existing superhero games could go a long way towards solving this issue. There are numerous ways this could be done, but as food for thought, I’ll set one out below.

 

Rank Concept

Every character, power and ability is given a rank. These range from 0 to 5:

  1. Incapable. This character simply doesn’t have this ability in a way that can be used game-mechanically (e.g. physical strength for a 3 year old child)
  2. Normal human
  3. Above normal human (street-level hero or villain)
  4. Super-human
  5. Powerful super-human
  6. Cosmic super-being

Every character has a core rank. This is the default for every stat, skill, ability and power they have. However, you can also increase or decrease abilities on an individual basis.

  • An ability of a higher rank always beats an ability of a lower rank
  • An ability of a lower rank can only affect an ability of a higher rank if there is some kind of advantageous or aggravating factor (e.g. overwhelming odds, team work, a critical hit mechanic, exploiting a stated weakness)

To illustrate this by example:
Superman is a Rank 5 hero. It is impossible for any attack from a Rank 3 to hurt them (whether they just don’t hit, or they bounce off his Uber-tough skin, or whatever).

Batman is a Rank 5 hero* with Rank 3 physical strength. Although he can mix it with the big leagues, his physical attacks are impotent against many bad guys so he needs to find other solutions.

Wolverine is a Rank 4 hero with Rank 5 Claws. Those things can cut through anything.

*or could be. Other builds are available!

Ranks plus Conflict Resolution

The impact this has on the conflict resolution mechanics can potentially be quite dramatic. Points-buy systems typically give tough Heroes high levels of invulnerability or defences to reflect the fact they aren’t easily hurt. They then need to give equivalent high levels of damage to reflect the opponents that can sometimes hurt them. You then end up in a situation where any Villain that is a challenge to Superman will kill Batman in a single blow.

However, with a rank system you don’t need to do this. Instead of giving Superman a 25d6 punch attack, you can give him a Rank 5 8d6 punch attack. With that punch, he can damage any opponent he fights. But he won’t insta-kill a street-level thug just because he’s forgotten about the pulling-your-punch mechanics. Similarly, you can build a Captain USA character who looks like he’s just a normal human, but because he’s a Rank 4 hero, he can dodge bullets and duke it out with super-powered foes without needing to break in-game scaling mechanics.

Similarly, Batman has rank 4 Intimidate. Against ordinary bad guys, he doesn’t even need to roll. Against average super-villains, he uses his (high) skill. Against Justice League-level baddies he just glowers moodily.

To work at its very best, you need to separate out Combat mechanics from Non-combat mechanics. For example, Strength should reflect the ability to exert force on the game world but NOT reflect damage. This is a fundamental requirement to ensure scaling for things like Lifting doesn’t break scaling for Combat. It’s something I used to hate, because it broke my simulationist view of the real world, but the reality is we’re not simulating real world, we’re simulating comic book world and to my knowledge Superdude hasn’t punched anyone’s head off to date. As I recall, Silver Age Sentinels and related tri-stat games did just this.

Finally, a beneficial side-effect of this is that it can increase how much you are able to play in the game mechanical sweet spot. Hero System, for example, with its buckets of dice approach, offers quite different game play when the typical attack does 4d6 damage to when it does 15d6 damage (not least, because more dice reduces the likelihood of rolling extreme values). Using ranks, you can pitch the game at the level your group most enjoys whilst still allowing for apparently vast differences in powers and abilities.

 

Playing with the concept

The other fun thing about the Rank concept is it offers different ways you can play with it to make it work for your game.

For example, instead of linking it to hard-and-fast power levels, you can just use it as a relative scale. Rank 6 means you are the best at that in your campaign universe. Regardless of any other PC or NPC, you are the best. Want to be Usain Bolt? There ya go.

Another, related, way to use it is for niche protection. According to the canon, Superman has a genius-level intellect, yet in the Justice League he invariably plays second-fiddle to Batman – this is because Bruce invested points in Rank 5 intellect, giving himself niche protection as “the clever one”.

One option is to introduce rank auctions as part of a collaborative character generation, for a bit of competitive tension in the creation of the PCs. Not suitable for every group, or indeed every game, but forces you to ask yourself just how much are you willing to give up to be the best warrior in the kingdom?

Finally, for those characters like Batman who seem able to effortless scale up and down as befits the story, you can do away with multiple character versions or complex power-builds. Simply vary the character rank based on the story you want to tell and nothing else needs to change. (“Today, we’re playing a Rank 3 scenario”). Or create a power that allows a character to more easily raise his Rank: you don’t need a mob of Batmen to duke it out with Superman, you just need to remember that he can knows your weaknesses and he always has a plan…

Wizard’s Duels

I’ve always felt that most F20 fantasy rulesets fail in one regard in particular – the ability to have exciting magical duels, where two wizards match off in a flurry of arcane energy. So, inspired by Ars Magica’s certamen, here is a detailed option tailored for D&D5 but easily tweakable to any F20 game.

Wizard’s Duels – Why do they happen?
In any given location, there is only a limited amount of arcane energy waiting to be tapped. With limited resources and almost unlimited magic-user ego, when two arcane spell users come into contact, a wizard’s duel frequently is the result.

  1. Limited Magic Metaphysic: When two or more arcane spell-casters are in close proximity, the same encounter and within 100’ of one another, their ability to draw on their full magical resources are reduced. Spell damage dice are reduced by 1 step (e.g. d8 to d6), targets of arcane spells have Advantage on any Saves and spell Durations are reduced by 25%.
    Why have a duel? Because you’re less use to your party if there’s an enemy Wizard flying around.
  2. Magical Offense: As a result of their delving into matters arcane, all Mages are surrounded by an innate magical field. This has no effect most of the time, although it does mean that powerful spell casters can be identified through Detect Magic spells and abilities. However, if a spell-caster is targeted offensively by an enemy spell-caster, there is a chance that their magical aura will flare up and trap both casters in a magical vortex, forcing a Wizard’s Duel to take place.

Vortex Check: Caster rolls Spell Attack roll vs DC of 15+ Levels of any active spells on the Opponent Caster (excluding Spell Protections, see below)
Both Wizards are of the same Tradition: +2 to DC
Opponent has raised their aura: + Opponent Caster Level to DC

Caster Level and Active Spells both contribute to the strength of the opponent’s magical aura, a stronger aura making it more likely that a vortex is created. However, a higher level attacking spell is more likely to be able to bludgeon its way through the aura.
Why have a duel? Because magic makes it happen!

Spell Protections: if the target has protection up that defend against spells attacks (e.g. Globe of Invulnerability), that protection sits outside of the Wizard’s natural magical aura. As such, the Vortex check is made only if the attacking spell penetrates the defensive spell.

Raising Aura:  A Target Caster can use a Reaction to consciously flare up their magical aura to increase the chance of invoking a duel. To do so, they must be aware of the enemy caster and that a spell is being cast (e.g. they observe verbal, somatic or material components being used, or they see the trajectory of the spell). Alternatively, as a Bonus Action, a Caster can intentionally heighten their aura so that any incoming spell invokes a Duel, even if they are not aware of it. An aura heightened in this way remains heightened until the caster’s next turn.

  1. Invoked Duel: A Caster within 30’ of an enemy caster can Invoke a Wizard’s Duel. No roll is made, and the Opponent cannot prevent the Duel from starting.
    Why have a duel? Sometimes it’s not up to you

MAGICAL VORTEX
A Wizard’s Duel takes place within a magical vortex that exists outside of the prime material plane. Neither the participants nor the vortex itself can be harmed, dispelled or affected by any means by any denizen of any of the known planes. The vortex manifests itself as a crackling storm, which may reflect the personalities and magical strengths of the participants or the inherent magical aura of the place in which the vortex was invoked. Both participants can be seen by any outside observers, although in reality this is a shadow manifestation of their true selves. Observers may also see visual representations of the Wizard’s Duel that correspond with the magic schools or specific spells being used in the duel.

THE DUEL
Duels take place in Rounds, in parallel with any action taking place in the real world. The wizards hurl magic against each other in a show of brute force, with the aim of overcoming their opponent and neutralising their magical energy.

  1. Duelling attributes: Both Casters retain their previous Initiative score. However, for the purposes of the Wizard’s Duel all actions are considered simultaneous. Each caster has a Magic Point score, equal to their normal maximum hit points.
  1. Each round, the participants each select a spell, giving consideration to Spell School and Spell Level. In a Wizard’s duel, the effect of the spell itself is not relevant, as the duel is fought using arcane energy in its pure distilled form. This selection is done in secret and then revealed simultaneously. That spell is marked off as having been cast. If necessary, the player should also declare whether they are aiming to cause damage or invoke a special effect (see below).
    Burning Spent Slots
    A Wizard who has cast memorised spells before the duel begins retains some of the essential essence of that spell in their magical aura. Instead of using a memorised spell, a Wizard can opt to use a Spent Slot. To do so, the Wizard must take Hit Point damage equal to 1d4 + Spell Level. If this damage reduces the Wizard’s HP to 0 or less, they fall unconscious and the duel ends. This option is only for spells cast prior to the duel begins, and cannot be used for spells cast during the duel itself.
  2. The participants roll Duel Score on 1d20 + Spell Attack + Spell level, modified as below .
School Offensive Total Defensive Total Other Effect
Abjuration -1d6 +1d6 Damage Magic Points
Conjuration Adv Damage Magic Points
Divination Damage or Special Effect: Assess Power
Enchantment Damage or Special Effect: Fascinate
Evocation Damage Magic Points x2
Illusion Damage or Special Effect: Distract
Necromancy Damage or Special Effect: Drain
Transmutation Adv Damage Magic Points
Universal Damage Magic Points

If the Offensive Total is higher, the Active Caster achieves the Effect detailed in the table above. For some schools, the caster must choose whether they are seeking to cause Damage or to invoke a special effect. This should be declared before the character rolls their Duel score.

NB: For Abjuration, roll 1d20 and 1d6: subtract the d6 for the Offensive total, add it for the Defensive total. For Conjuration and Transmutation, roll 1d20 for the initial total and a second d20 for the Advantage, using the higher value for the Offensive (Conjuration) or Defensive (Transmutation) total as appropriate.

Damage: Roll 1d6 + Caster’s Int + Spell Level – Opponent’s Wisdom save. If the damage total is greater than 0, the Opponent must choose one of the following:

  • Apply the remainder as damage to their Magic Points, or
  • Discard their highest level memorised spell, or
  • Dispel their highest level active spell.

If the Opponent’s Magic Points total is already at zero, they must discard either a memorised spell or an active spell or concede defeat.

Special Effects: The opponent suffers an effect as follows:

  • Assess Power: See below
  • Fascinate Opponent: Advantage to Defensive total next round
  • Distract Opponent: Advantage to Attack total next round
  • Drain: Opponent suffers 1 ability point damage to INT or WIS (Attacker’s choice)

In addition, if the Offensive Total is 10 or more points over the Defensive Total, the Opponent also suffers Damage as above.

Duel Score Assess Power Result
0 Total number of spell levels currently memorised by Opponent
+2 As above, plus the school in which the caster currently has the most spells memorised. Also reveals the caster’s Tradition
+4 As above, plus number of levels in that school.
+6 As above, plus all other schools in which the caster has spells currently memorised, in order of most to least.
Every extra +2 Number of spell levels in each school, from most to least. Once all schools and total spell levels are revealed, the Active Caster learns how many Spells are currently memorised plus how many levels of Spent spells there are for any school of their choice.

Once all schools and total spell levels are revealed, the Active Caster learns how many Spells are currently memorised plus how many levels of Spent spells there are for any school of their choice.

Conceding Defeat: At any time, either caster can offer to concede defeat to their opponent. Their opponent is not obliged to accept and can force the duel to continue. If they accept, the duel ends. The Caster who accepted the defeat is the Victor, the Caster who conceded is the defeated Caster, regardless of the relative positions in terms of spells remaining and Magic Points.

ENDING THE DUEL
The Wizard’s Duel ends when one of the following conditions is met:

  • one or both Casters Magic Points reaches zero and they have no more memorised spells remaining
  • one Caster concedes defeat and the other Caster accepts
  • either Caster’s Hit Points total reaches zero.

If both casters meet one of the ending conditions simultaneously, the duel ends with no Victor.

On ending, the stormy vortex abruptly stops and each caster is returned to their starting location, dramatically but without further harm. No further magical duel is possible between the two individuals for the next 48 hours unless both Casters explicitly agree, in which case the Victor gains Advantage to all Duel rolls.

TO THE VICTOR THE SPOILS
A caster with memorised spells and/or Magic Points remaining is the Victor. They have the opportunity to learn from their experience of the duel:

  • A Wizard may add any one of the spells used by their opponent to their spell book. This must be of a level and school that they could normally cast, and must be scribed into their spell book within 12 hours of the duel ending.
  • A Sorcerer may replace any of their currently Known spells with one of the spells used by their opponent to their spell book. This must be of a level and school that they could normally cast. This occurs immediately.

In addition, the Victor can ignore the presence of the defeated Caster for the purposes of the Limited Magic metaphysic for the next 48 hours.

PRICE OF DEFEAT
It is possible that the losing Caster still has some spells (or spell-like abilities) remaining. They are free to use these as before. However, any spell cast within 100’ of the Victor and any ranged or area-effect spell cast targeted at a point within 100’ of the Victor has a 50% Arcane Failure rate, and is cast at 50% damage / Advantage of Saves / 50% duration for the next 48 hours.

 

NB: This is tweaked from an idea I put together a few years back for D&D3.5/PF, so it may be I missed making a few of the changes necessary to fit with D&D5. However, with relatively minor adjustments it could be used for any RPG magic system that has the feature of limited spell casting ability, whether it be Power Points, Mana, Spell Slots or whatever.